This year's crop of Sound Products of the Year represents five of the best for theatre sound as chosen by our panel of judges. Why five and not the usual four? Because the judges split on an award for software, which was broken down by party lines, sort of: the old Mac versus PC conundrum. Those in the former camp were big fans of QLab, while those in the latter camp opted for SFX 6. But before fisticuffs ensued, both sides agreed that each product brought something new to the tech table. These two, plus the other three noteworthy products — one of which is actually a book! — are assessed below.


Bob McCarthy's Sound Systems: Design and Optimization

The biggest no-brainer pick among all this year's candidates, according to the judges, is Bob McCarthy's book, Sound Systems: Design and Optimization. Published by Focal Press and written for both the audio pro as well as the student, it discusses proven techniques designed to ensure that a sound design is optimized for maximum uniformity within a space. The book follows the audio signal path from the mix console to the audience and provides comprehensive information as to how the sound is spread over the listening area. McCarthy's book is a great value, notes one judge, as it contains most of what is offered as part of the fundamentals course that the author put together for Meyer Sound. “Even if you disagree with some of his points, it contains great food for thought and even includes a bonus comic strip!” says another judge.


Media Numerics RockNet 3

RockNet is a realtime, low-latency audio/data distribution network expressly designed for touring and installed sound applications. The system provides a cost-efficient, universal solution to a full spectrum of audio distribution applications. Supporting Cat5 as a standard, RockNet can link up to 99 devices into a single network comprising 160 audio channels, which can be dropped to a maximum of 768 outputs in the bi-directional network, and channel inputs can be microphone, analog, or digital audio. One highlight is a streamlined redundancy concept on the device and at the network level. The network is self-healing for single connection failures. “It is an impressive networking solution that eliminates the need for tons of cable,” says one judge. Another says it provides “cost-efficient, labor-saving, great sound quality, flexible DSP with graphic interface, and reliable audio distribution over Cat5 rather than bulky cabling.”


Figure 53 QLab

Mac users, vocally passionate bunch that they are, finally seem to have a show control product they can rally around, not just in the sound world, but across multiple disciplines. QLab allows you to control audio, video, and MIDI from a single workspace directly from your Mac. Built on Mac's CoreAudio, every sound cue has its own matrix mixer, allowing you to mix multi-channel sound files to a variety of outputs. QLab supports up to eight channels per file and can route up to 16 channels per output device. “QLab is possibly the best new product in years for audio playback,” says one judge. “It is very intuitive, very affordable, glitch free — from our experience at three shows and counting — and it's designed by a theatre artist! We think QLab has a wonderful future.”


Yamaha DSP5D

“I think the DSP5D will be a major force,” says one judge about Yamaha's latest effort on the digital front. The DSP5D has all the functionality of a PM5D-RH without the control surface. It is a rackmountable unit that can be controlled from a PM5D-RH console. It has 48 mono and four stereo inputs, 24 mix buses, eight matrix buses, and 24 omni outputs. It also has eight effects processors and 12 graphic equalizers and allows for two mini-YGDAI expansion card slots. It is fully compatible with DSP5D Editor software and can function as a remote stage box via the DCU5D Digital Cabling Unit. “How awesome is it that you could have the DSP in the pit, connected via Cat5 to a console at FOH? That's a lot less cable to pull and much shorter analog cable runs,” says another judge. “This product opens up a lot more options for people with real-world budgetary concerns.”


Stage Research SFX 6

SFX has been a mainstay of the theatre sound world for a few years now (at least for PC users), but this latest version stood out for our panel of judges for its host of new features. They include: ASIO sound playback engine that supports 16-bit or better WAV, MP3, or WMA audio files; cues that output to a true matrix (any number inputs to any number of outputs); audio cues that can contain mono, stereo, and more channels; and the ability drag-and-drop multiple sound files to create a multi-channel, synchronized sound cue from existing mono and stereo sound files. “I think the improvements are astounding,” says one judge. “I think the scripting language gives incredible power. If you have actor-specific recordings that need to change according to who is playing that role, you can write four lines of simple code that will ask you who is playing the role, and that will decide which tracks are played in the show. I think the speed at which you can design using it is impressive. Overall, I think it is just well done.”